Something Fishy at Macdonald Hall


From the book:

William R. Sturgeon, Headmaster of Macdonald Hall, limped down the stairs of his cottage, leaning on a wooden cane. Settling himself at the kitchen table, he peered between the ruffled curtains and harumphed at the cloudy fall morning.
"Barely Labor Day, and it's already freezing."
His wife set a cup of coffee in front of him. "Good morning to you, too, William," she said brightly.
"I should have retired last year," Mr. Sturgeon went on, as though no one had spoken. "We could be in Florida now, lying on the beach. We've earned it."
Mrs. Sturgeon laughed. "You loathe the beach, William. You always get sand all over your tie."
"Very funny," grumbled her husband. "But the fact remains that there's nothing for me at Macdonald Hall anymore."
His wife looked distressed. "How can you say such a thing? This is your school!"
"It would run perfectly well without me," he insisted. "Everything that happens here is automatic. For example, I ran into Elmer Drimsdale yesterday and automatically congratulated him on winning the Summer Science Fair. I had no proof that he even entered!"
"But of course he did," Mrs. Sturgeon put in soothingly. "And of course he won first prize."
"That's my point exactly," said the Headmaster. "I knew that. I know everything. I know Peter Anderson struggled in summer school; I know Sidney Rampulsky broke at least one bone during vacation; I know Walton and O' Neal have already paid a visit to their friends over at Miss Scrimmage's school. There's no challenge, Mildred. My life has become, as they say, a 'no-brainer.'" He sighed. "And then there's this medical condition."
His wife cracked an egg hard enough to pulverize it. "It's an ingrown toenail, William. Your 'medical condition' is not exactly life threatening."
Mr. Sturgeon squared his shoulders stubbornly. "That's easy to say when it's on someone else's foot. It happens to be extremely painful."
"You're such a baby," she accused. "Why don't you just call up the doctor, and schedule the surgery?"
Her husband set his jaw and said nothing. "And how dare you reduce our boys to guesses and accusations?" his wife went on. "You have no proof that Bruno and Melvin were off-campus last night."
The Headmaster smiled mirthlessly. "I don't have any proof that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I expect to see it. I'm surprised we haven't heard from Miss Scrimmage to complain about the intruders."
"Now, that's just silly --;"
Mrs. Sturgeon hurried to the door. "Don't get up, dear. I'll see who it is."
"I know who it is," he grumbled.
There were voices in the hall, and then his wife reappeared with Miss Scrimmage in tow. "Look, William. We have company."
"Miss Scrimmage --; what a surprise. How may I help you?"
Miss Scrimmage removed her white gloves and feathered hat, sat down at the table, and accepted a cup of coffee. "Mr. Sturgeon," she began, "alas, this is not entirely a social call."
"Ah," said Mr. Sturgeon noncommittally.
"Indeed. Last night, three of your students broke into my school and terrorized my poor defenseless girls. Fortunately, I was able to subdue them with a bowl of Cream of Wheat."
Faint indications of a smile tugged at the Headmaster's lips, but overall he remained stern. "How resourceful of you."
"And so," Miss Scrimmage went on, "I must insist that you identify the guilty parties, and mete out the appropriate punishment."
Mr. Sturgeon sat forward in his chair. "An excellent suggestion. Unfortunately, the Macdonald Hall Cream of Wheat detector is not working."
Miss Scrimmage rose in a huff. "You mock me, sir!"
"Would you care for some toast and gooseberry preserves?" put in Mrs. Sturgeon solicitously.
"Madam," said Mr. Sturgeon, "if you have an accusation, make it. But I will not start a witch hunt without proof that any of my boys are involved."
"I should have known better than to expect cooperation from you!" shrilled Miss Scrimmage. She flounced out, slamming the cottage door behind her.
"William, I'm ashamed of you," said Mrs. Sturgeon. "Why do you bait that poor lady? You know she only becomes hysterical."
"And the fact that I knew she was coming? And why? Have you nothing to say to that?"
"Well --;" his wife admitted, "yes, you were right. Except you predicted it would be Bruno and Melvin, and Miss Scrimmage said there were three."
"There is another O' Neal at Macdonald Hall this year," replied the Headmaster. "This must have been a training mission for him." His eyes came to rest on Miss Scrimmage's hat and gloves, which lay forgotten on the counter. "Who dresses that woman? Somewhere there must be a barn owl running around naked!"
"You're so smug," his wife complained. "Couldn't you be wrong just once in a while?"
Her husband regarded her earnestly. "Macdonald Hall can't seem to surprise me anymore. I think that's the sign that it's time to retire."

* * *

Long lines of cars, trucks, and vans led off the highway and up the circular drive to the Faculty Building. There the traffic was forced onto the narrow lane that serviced the south lawn. A sharp left looped around the pool building and disappeared from view. But the Sturgeons could make out the tops of transport trucks above the dormitory roofs way over on the north side of the campus. Beyond there, finally, the traffic merged back onto the highway.
Mrs. Sturgeon gawked. "How odd! Why on earth would all the cars come onto our private road?"
The Headmaster's brow clouded. "Unless my eyes deceive me, Mildred, those are detour signs out on the road. Someone has deliberately diverted Route 48 through Macdonald Hall."
She frowned. "But who would want to do that?"
Mr. Sturgeon limped to the closet and shrugged into his red silk bathrobe. "I think we may safely assume that our practical joker has struck again."
"The Phantom!" she exclaimed.
The squealing of brakes under their window made them both jump.
"Please don't use that nickname, Mildred. It glamorizes gross misbehavior the likes of which I have never seen. When I get my hands on that so-called Phantom, he will indeed wish himself a ghost!" He stepped into his slippers.
"But I thought running the school had become a 'no-brainer,"' she put in. "Surely you must know who this person is."
"I have my suspicions," the Headmaster replied, limping out of the room.
"My goodness," she called. "Just after you complained that things were so predictable, here we are in the midst of chaos!"
"I didn't know when I was well-off!" he snapped over his shoulder, and pounded down the stairs.
Stumping along with his cane, he burst out the front door just in time to see Mr. Fudge running toward him. The Dormitory 3 Housemaster was waving his arms in agitation.
"Mr. Sturgeon! There are cars on the campus!"
"Your powers of observation are keen as ever, Fudge," said the Headmaster ironically. He stormed over to his rosebushes where a sign was balanced on the top branches:


A large brown feather was neatly taped to the cardboard. Similar signs stood all along the parade route, guiding bewildered motorists through the maze.

Copyright © 1994 Gordon Korman, used by permission

Water balloons are falling from the ceiling in the math room, the statue of John Macdonald is wearing a wetsuit, and the kitchen is overflowing with dishwashing suds. Bruno and Boots are obviously back in full swing, with another year of pranks planned for Macdonald Hall.

Problem is, some of the jokes are going too far, and the Fish (Headmaster Sturgeon) is beginning to consider expulsion. To make matters worse, with the history Bruno and Boots have, not even their best friends believe they are innocent -- but they are! And if they can't prove it, they may get their walking papers!

If that weren't enough to start the year on a down note, Boots' younger brother is now attending Macdonald Hall, and has made it his life's goal to antagonize Bruno. Elmer Drimsdale is in love with one of Scrimmage's girls, and his bizarre notion of love gifts may cause a riot, and Cathy and Diane are trying to foil the world's loudest alarm system before they find themselves prisoners in their own school.

Bruno and Boots are determined to catch the real practical joker and clear their names, but the secretive figure always seems to be a step ahead of them. Can they nab the mastermind prankster, or is this the last of the Bruno and Boots novels? I'm not about to give away the ending, but you'll HOWL when the phantom jokester is finally unmasked!